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3 small steps to start your advocacy efforts (and 3 big ones too)

As a non-profit organization, it’s your goal to raise awareness about the important work you do and bring about change to the community that you serve. One of the ways to do this is through advocacy. Advocacy is simply gaining public support for a particular cause or policy, such as literacy.

However, when you consider what’s needed to educate the public, government or potential funders about your mission, it can be overwhelming to undertake advocacy efforts. Non-profits tend to have limited resources, and you may find yourself wearing a lot of hats, from practitioner to marketer to advocate.

While advocacy work isn’t a fit for all non-profits, for those who want to go down that route, there are some small things you can do to get started on the path to big change.

  1. Engage your local politicians

Take advantage of building relationships with your city or town’s mayor, city councillors, MPPs and MPs. It’s their job is to support the people in their community. If you can get your local politicians to support the great work that you do and demonstrate how it’s positively impacting the community, they will be more than likely to support you throughout their work.

Invite them to your centre, ask them to speak at an event you’re hosting or simply request a meeting over coffee. Politicians are eager to get out in the community so you should take advantage of this.

  1. Sign an open letter

When something is newsworthy, such as budget cuts to education funding, it’s your time to shine. An open letter to a politician may be just what you need to get your voice heard. Consider joining forces with partner organizations to amplify your voices and show a united front. As a bonus, the more organizations on board, the cheaper it will cost to take out a full-page ad in a local paper to promote your message.

  1. Write an opinion editorial

Similar to an open letter, an opinion piece is an opportunity to share your perspective with the local media and all who read it. Have your Executive Director write a 500 to 1000-word article on a newsworthy or controversial topic related to your field. For example, if you work with seniors and they all talk about how the Internet is too expensive for them, write a piece advocating for lower prices for seniors. Be sure to use statistics, anecdotes and stories from the front lines to write a strong angle.

Check your local newspaper for examples of other successful opinion editorials. Once you’ve written your piece, contact the editor of the paper and ask them if they would be interested in running it. 

Take it further
Now that you’ve taken some small steps to engage in advocacy efforts, you may want to take your actions further. While advocacy can be expensive and time-consuming, if you believe it’s an important venture for your organization, there are even more steps you can take to make a real impact.

  1. Start collecting data

Begin gathering useful data about the clients that you serve. By evaluating your literacy programs to capture quantitative and qualitative data such as number of learners served, program completion rates or job success rates, you’ll be able to demonstrate the tangible outcomes of the work that you do.

Additionally, look to record information around donors and supporters, such as board members’ relationships with lawmakers and coalitions in your community. By knowing ahead of time who has connections to whom, it can be easier to ask for an introduction when the time arises.

Organize all of this information into a database to identify trends, patterns and opportunities to assist your advocacy efforts.

  1. Get the proper systems in place

Being aware of your current systems’ capabilities and limitations is the foundation for any advocacy effort.

Evaluate your current data software and identify any potential shortfalls, both currently and in the future. What type of data are you currently collecting? How user-friendly is your process for tracking donor or learner information and activity? What additional functionality does your current CRM need to enable organizational growth?

Then, make any necessary system upgrades to set your advocacy campaign up for the greatest chance of success.

If you don’t yet have a database in place, consider looking at low-cost options through platforms such as Tech Soup. Tech Soup is a program dedicated to empowering charities, non-profits and libraries with the effective use of technology by offering discounts on software and systems.

  1. Attract the right supporters

Your organization can’t run a successful advocacy campaign on its own. For better results, join advocacy forces with organizations that are in alignment with your goals. For example, if you’re lobbying for legal change, network with like-minded organizations. Doing so helps strengthen the coalition and increases the number of voices heard. With the information you gain from being part of these discussions, you’ll learn the best ways to participate in the policy solutions and engage in advocacy.

Implement online and offline advocacy actions while remaining completely clear about your organization’s standpoint(s). Provide a concrete direction to your advocates of the action you’re requesting. Use direct messaging and keep supporters updated on their results and efforts.

You know the amazing opportunities that your organization’s work provides – and so do your program participants. But to make even more of a difference, it may be time to launch some advocacy efforts. While it can seem overwhelming, the bottom line is to just get started.

If you want to seek out other literacy organizations to partner with on your advocacy efforts, check out our LEARN database of literacy groups across the country.